January 21st, 2010

I am uncomfortable “asking the universe” for things. I am uncomfortable with the idea of “the law of attraction” and “manifesting your destiny.” I am downright suspicious of The Secret. I know that many people, including at least a few people who read this blog, swear by the law of attraction and can point to situations in their lives when the law of attraction seemed to be fully at work in their lives. I read blogs; I’ve seen it happen, too.* Certainly on some level the law of attraction makes some sense: if you are negative and unhappy and grumble about your unhappiness, joyful people probably aren’t likely to hang around you for long whereas other grumblers will find in you a partner in unhappiness, reinforcing the negative trend. Certainly if fear holds you back from trying to start your own business, from quitting your job to travel around the world for eight months, from tying to publish your poetry then you will never start your own business, travel the world, or publish poetry. I get it.

On the other hand, suggesting “without exception, every human being has the ability to transform any weakness or suffering into strength, power, perfect peace, health, and abundance”¬†seems to me to tread perilously close to suggesting that those who are lacking are lacking through some fault of their own. As if social forces don’t exist. As if class structure doesn’t circumscribe opportunities at every turn. As if crushing, grinding poverty of a type I can’t even begin to imagine wouldn’t dictate a person’s every action. As if there wouldn’t be things that would stand in the way of somebody “manifesting abundance.”

My book club just finished discussing The White Tiger. Balram, the main character, talks about being trapped in “the Rooster Coop.” The Rooster Coop – an insidious combination of social control, class structure, violence, poverty and fear that traps people in “perpetual servitude;” social and cultural traditions that are reinforced from without and from within. “The Rooster Coop,” Balram muses at one point, “was doing its work. Servants have to keep other servants from becoming innovators, experimenters, or entrepreneurs. Yes, that’s the sad truth, Mr. Premier. The coop is guarded from the inside.” I thought the metaphor of the Rooster Coop was brilliant, brilliant and sad because I look at the world and see Rooster Coops. There is joy and wonder and abundance, but there is a whole lot of cruelty and injustice too, and I am uncomfortable with a world view that doesn’t take social structure seriously, that doesn’t take injustice – human-created, human-perpetuated injustice – seriously.

I am uncomfortable ignoring the reality that the pure stupid luck of the draw doesn’t have a lot to do with my abundance, with the chances that present themselves to me, with the freedom – the luxury – I have to pursue them. The socio-economic status I occupy, that I occupy by the luck of birth and the coincidence of marriage – colors everything. I’ve written of this before. I do not mean to suggest that people are locked beyond all hope in certain circumstances; of course people can do better, rise above, shine, get lucky, work hard, break free. But I find it disingenuous to suggest that the circumstances of our birth and the social forces at work in our lives don’t tilt the playing field even in the matter of the law of attraction. I am extremely uncomfortable with that.

I am uncomfortable with the law of attraction because it strikes me as yet another way in which the world is unfair, but in a manner that allows us to overlook that unfairness. In a manner that makes it easier for us to overlook the social structures – conditions of race and class and gender and institutionalized corruption and inter-generational poverty – that are at play every day and that are already easy enough to ignore. Things that are very real and cannot be manifested away so easily.

So here is where I admit sheepishly that I asked the universe for something this month. In my own way, I think I asked the universe for something. Something that I got (these are the more coherent thoughts I promised). In thinking about this workshop, I did a few things differently. Who’s to say I wouldn’t have gotten in anyway? I mean, I would have sent the same five poems, written the same awkward cover letter. But I did kind of ask the universe for this thing.

Where does this leave me, cynic that I am? I guess it leaves me thinking that the law of attraction might work in my personal, small life.** But the world is big and the injustice is real. And I am still very, very uncomfortable suggesting that “without exception, every human being has the ability to transform any weakness or suffering into strength, power, perfect peace, health, and abundance.” That’s too simple. Too close to upper-class privilege. Too comfortable.

I’m still uncomfortable with all of this. I doubt I’m going to start “asking the universe” for things on a regular basis, unless it’s to ask the universe for a little more social justice a little more quickly, please. And then to go the barricades.

* As a social scientist, however long out of the field, I’m compelled to suggest here: it’s impossible to prove that people wouldn’t have gotten what they wanted even if they hadn’t opened themselves up to the law of attraction since they only live one life and can’t go back and see what would have happened had they behaved differently in some way. Correlation does not mean causality and all that.

** Or it might just leave me thinking that correlation does not imply causality.

4 Responses to “Uncomfortable”

  1. kristen on January 21, 2010 3:56 pm

    I love this post. And I couldn’t agree with you more. I think our minds might work in a similar fashion.

    And, congrats on the workshop… I’m going to ask the universe to make sure you have a great time while you are there!!

  2. rswb on January 22, 2010 1:19 pm

    I don’t really get this post. If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of asking the universe for something and don’t really believe in it, then why do it? Isn’t it enough to acknowledge that you write poetry and you wanted to get into this course and so you sent off your submission, and you were good enough to get in on your own merit without the interference or help of anything bigger?

    Is “asking the universe” for something a euphemism for wanting something? Do you have to actually do anything apart from acknowledge that you want whatever in order to ask the universe for it? Is it a substitute for religion (praying)?

    It all seems a bit superfluous to (a non-believer like) me. Didn’t you get in because you deserved to?

  3. Jennifer on January 24, 2010 9:40 am

    Robyn – I think some of this post is something I’ve wanted to get off my chest for about two years. I read some shiny-happy faerie dust blogs and every time somebody wrote about manifesting their destiny I kind of wanted to puke. For the reasons stated above. But it seems uncharitable to launch into a tirade against something that brings people optimism and seems to help them go for what they want. And some people swear by it, so why go all negative on something people swear by. Like I said, it just seems rude. But still. I’m allergic to faerie dust. And baby dust. And “manifesting your destiny” when right now I mean right. now. some kid just died from persistent diarrhea. Diarrhea, for god’s sake, in 2010! Manifest that, I always wanted to say.

    So I sent off my application for the poetry workshop. I guess the things I did differently were being clear and public about wanting it, and about wanting it a lot. I uncharacteristically linked to the specific workshop in my blog (twice, even) – I’m usually cagey about things like that. [The thinking going, shoot, at least two poets who actually live in Mass and are better poets than me (Poet Mom has published a full length collection and Durable Pigments just rocks) read my blog now and then. What if they follow the link and apply? They’d totally get in before me?] But I actually very consciously decided to be open about this and when I hit the “attach link” button I though, well, let’s see how this goes. Let’s be generous about this. Is that manifesting? I don’t know. It was different for me though, to be so open.

    I believe I got in because I got in. I actually think I’m the perfect candidate for a workshop – I think my poetry clearly demonstrates that I have talent but that I could really benefit from guidance. I’m good enough to have promise and good enough to know where I need work and I think I’m at that level where some mentoring could have huge payoffs. So I got in because I got it.

    This was the first time I was really out there about wanting something though, and I used the correlation – which does not imply causality – as a jumping off point to get some things about The Secret off my chest.

  4. rswb on February 1, 2010 12:57 pm

    Aah, okay. I understand you then, I think, I just wouldn’t use the same vocabulary (with the manifesting of destiny etc). I would consider it more a question of proactivity, or actively pursuing what you’re after without feeling the need to be shy about it or hide behind feelings of potential inadequacy or whatever. It occurred to me some years ago that I am rarely this proactive myself, but then when I am (and the main example of it that I always think of is back in the olden days when I was chasing Reto around and forcing him to fall in love with me. Not that it was such a huge task, just that it was me who realised first that we were hopelessly in love and I had to hit him over the head a few times before he noticed as well. And normally I would never have been quite so stubborn in a relatively new relationship, but the constraints of time and geography that we were facing made me really kind of unrelenting. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?) really good things tend to come of it. For me, though, the real joy of looking back on things like that is to be able to say “how good am I? I made such a good decision and behaved in a fairly uncharacteristic way and got something that was great. Yay for me”. Which might all be a bit self-congratulatory, but it’s nicer to have myself to give the credit to than to have to give it all to the universe. Go me. And you.

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